News and Notices

Voluntary job throws Karen into the red zone

As a self-confessed adrenaline junkie, joining an urban search and rescue (USAR) response team seemed a logical fit for Karen Cargill.  

Karen Cargill

Karen Cargill with members of the urban search and rescue (USAR) response team

A clinical co-ordinator and registered nurse working in mental health, Karen joined the USAR team in 2010 because she wanted to give something back to the community. In particular, she wanted to work on the frontline, engaging with people and not just making cups of tea.
“I enjoy being able to respond to trauma, plus I am interested in helping people in need who are experiencing the effects of a natural disaster,” she says.
Since she has been with USAR, Karen has been called to respond during storm events and to search for lost and despondent people.
She was also been deployed twice to Christchurch following the earthquakes in 2010 and 2011. During her first deployment she supported traumatised people arriving to a welfare centre, and during the second she searched within the red zone.
“It was very surreal – like being in a war zone,” says Karen. “It was sensory overload with sirens and alarms going 24 hours a day, the smell of rotting food, tanks rolling through, helicopters flying around, and the sight of rescue personnel searching through debris and engaging with people in a heightened emotional distress.”
Karen says her volunteer role with USAR gives her a sense of connection with her community and has built on her interest in people’s welfare in general. She has also supported her husband in his role as a volunteer fire fighter for over 30 years.
Because of her mental health work and clinical experience Karen is also a member of the New Zealand Medical Assistance Team which sits with the Ministry of Health.